Chennai, Dec. 14: The flick of the cigarette on to his mouth was Rajinikanth’s signature style that tempted a whole generation to smoke.
But on his 63rd birthday on Wednesday, the superstar urged fans not to smoke or drink, blaming the two evils for his recent illness that had threatened his life.
Cigarettes have also been part of Rajinikanth’s persona off screen. “Although I reduced drinking after marriage, I could not give up smoking. Ultimately it was smoking that spoilt my health. I urge my fans not become slaves of smoking. If you smoke, please give it up immediately,” the star told fans at a birthday meeting on Wednesday.
The advice is a far cry from the Rajinikanth who had been such a chain smoker that once he gave an interview to a Tamil news channel puffing away. He has been shown smoking in virtually every film, barring his last three movies, and one in which he played Saint Raghavendra.
The turnaround came after former Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss wrote to the actor urging him not to smoke on screen saying it set a bad example for youths who saw him as a role model. Rajinikanth then switched to chewing gum in his 2008 film Sivaji The Boss.
Anti-smoking activists welcomed the star’s call. “Other heroes like Kamal Haasan, Surya and Vikram have refrained from smoking on screen after we made a public appeal to all stars. For someone like Rajinikanth, who is viewed as a demigod by fans, to publicly implore the youth not to smoke would have a telling effect,” said a spokesperson for the Cancer Institute in Chennai.
Doctors termed the birthday message a wake-up call. “What impressed me was Rajinikanth’s honesty and candour in admitting before thousands of fans that he had trouble in kicking the bottle and the cigarette. Now that he has attributed his own health problems to the two evils, which saw him fight for life last year when his lungs and kidneys almost packed up, it should come as a wake-up call to those addicted to smoking and drinking,” said Dr. A. Jayachandran, a senior urologist.
Premkumar, a 30-year-old auto driver and an ardent Rajinikanth fan waiting to watch Sivaji on 3D, suggested he had taken the star’s advice seriously.
“I used to smoke three packs a day but when my thalaivar (Rajinikanth) was hospitalised last year, I gave up smoking as a prayer for his recovery. I am thrilled he has advised youths not to smoke. I am sure his words will have greater weight than all those scary pictures on cigarette packets.”